Part of the body’s natural response

If your child has a fever, he or she will have a body temperature above 38°C (100.4°F). Your child may also feel tired, look pale, have a poor appetite, be irritable, have a headache or other aches and pains and feel generally unwell. Take the temperature from the armpit (always use the thermometer under the armpit with children under five, never use it in the mouth). However, bear in mind that these measurements are less accurate as the armpit is slightly cooler.

A fever is part of the body’s natural response to fight infection and can often be left to run its course provided your child is drinking enough and is otherwise well. If your child is having trouble drinking, trying to reduce their temperature may help with this. This is important in preventing your child from becoming dehydrated, which can lead to more serious problems. As a guide, your child’s urine should be pale yellow - if it is darker, your child may need to drink more fluids.

Fevers are common in young children. They are usually caused by viral infections and clear up without treatment. However, a fever can occasionally be a sign of a more serious illness such as a severe bacterial infection of the blood (septicaemia), urinary tract infection, pneumonia or meningitis.

You should contact your GP if fever symptoms are not improving after 48 hours. Check your child during the night.

Always seek medical advice if your child develops a fever soon after an operation, or soon after travelling abroad.


GP says

When looking after a feverish child at home you should:

  • Get the child to drink more (where a baby or child is breastfed the most appropriate fluid is breast milk).

  • Look for signs of dehydration: reduced wet nappies, dry mouth, sunken eyes, no tears, poor overall appearance, sunken soft spot on the top of the head in babies.

  • It is not advisable to give ibuprofen if your child is dehydrated.

  • Know how to identify a non-blanching rash (see meningitis & sepsis).

  • Check your child during the night.

  • Cold baths/showers/tepid sponging are not recommended.

Source: NICE, Feverish illness in children/2013

Over 38°C means a fever

Babies under six months

Always contact your GP or health visitor if your baby has other signs of illness, as well as a raised temperature and/or if your baby’s temperature is 38°C (100.4°F) or higher.

Older children

A little fever isn’t usually a worry. Contact your GP if your child seems unusually ill, or has a high temperature which doesn’t come down.

  • It’s important to encourage your child to drink as much fluid as possible. Water is best.

  • Bringing a temperature down is important because a continuing high temperature can be very unpleasant and, in a small child, occasionally brings on a fit or convulsion.

To help reduce temperature:

  • Undress to nappy/pants.

  • Keep room at a comfortable temperature (16°C-20°C).

  • Encourage your child to drink more (little amounts often).

  • Give sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen in the correct recommended dose for your child (see know the basics).


My toddler is hot and grumpy.


Have you tried sugar-free infant paracetamol or ibuprofen? Have you made sure they are drinking lots of fluids?


If their temperature remains over 38°C (100.4°F) and doesn’t come down, contact your GP.